True wireless earbuds have exploded in popularity of late. When they first launched they were a premium product aimed at big spenders, but now you can pick up a decent pair for as little as £50 ($66, AU$90).
If you want the best wireless earbuds, mind you, you will need to be prepared to spend a bit more.
Sony makes some the best-value pair around; its WF-1000XM3s (not to be confused with the WH-1000XM3 over-ear headphones) currently sit at the top of our list of the best wireless earbuds money can buy. But it's highly likely they will soon be succeeded by the WF-1000XM4s.
So, what can we expect from Sony's next true wireless pair? When will they launch? How much will they cost? What technologies will be onboard? And will they keep Sony top of our leaderboard? Here's everything we know so far...
Sony WF-1000XM4 release date
Sony hasn't even confirmed the existence of the WF-1000XM4s yet, although their arrival is as sure as night following day – especially as the fourth generation of Sony's over-ear headphones, the WH-1000XM4s, have now arrived. We don't know the release date, but based on past performance we can take an educated guess.
The WF-1000XM3s launched last August, making them now fairly old in headphone terms. Hence, they're due a refresh.
The big trade shows have been and gone in 2020, so it doesn't appear as though we'll get a replacement this year – we think there's a better chance of an announcement being made in January, at CES 2021. There are plenty of other products to keep you distracted this holiday season, though, including the PS5, Xbox Series X and iPhone 12.
Sony WF-1000XM4 price
Wireless earbuds differ wildly in price.
With the Sonys being some of the best, we wouldn't expect a new model to come cheap. The WF-1000XM3s launched at £220 ($230, AU$399), though you can now find them for much less than that thanks to an array of Sony WF-1000XM3 deals. We would expect the XM4s to launch at around the same price, somewhere in the ballpark of £200 ($200, AU$400).
We'd hope them to come in cheaper than the AirPods Pro, which have an RRP of £249 ($249, AU$399) but can often be picked up cheaper courtesy of an AirPods Pro deal.
Sony WF-1000XM4 specs
So what can we expect the XM4s to actually do, tech-wise? Quite a lot, actually.
Like the XM3s before them, they should feature much of the same tech found in Sony's flagship over-ear noise-cancelling headphones. The Sony WH-1000XM4s (remember, only the 'H' separates them from the earbuds) launched recently, and they give us a good idea of what to expect from Sony's upcoming earbuds.
The over-ear models debuted a new sound processor called DSEE Extreme. Considering the earbuds version of the XM3s used the same DSEE HX engine as their over-ear stablemates, we would expect the XM4s to follow their bigger brothers and use the DSEE Extreme as well.
What does that mean? Better sound quality, that's what. Not only does the new engine attempt to upscale compressed music to near-hi-res quality, it also adds artificial intelligence technology called Edge-AI. It’s been developed with the help of Sony Music Studios Tokyo to analyse music in real-time to reproduce a more accurate sound that's more faithful to the original track.
The over-ear XM4s lack aptX or aptX HD support – a shame considering the growing support for aptX HD – but they are compatible with Sony's own LDAC technology. This allows you to stream high-quality audio wirelessly from a compatible source, including select Android smartphones running Android 8.0 or above.
If you subscribe to a streaming service that supports tracks encoded in Sony 360 Reality Audio, such as Tidal or Amazon Music HD, the WH-1000M4s can also be used to experience the immersive audio format.
We would expect the WF-1000XM4 earbuds to have the same tech and support onboard.
The Ambient Sound and Quick Attention features (which let in varying degrees of outside sound so you can hold a conversation) came as standard on the XM3 earbuds, and again, we can expect it on the XM4s. But could they also have the over-ear XM4s' Speak to Chat feature? This automatically recognises when you're talking and activates Ambient Sound mode so you can chat without taking off the headphones. It could be tricky to implement on a pair of earbuds, however, so mark this down as a maybe.
They could also gain the ability to pause music when you take out an earbud, and resume playing when you pop it back in. We've seen this on numerous headphones before, so Sony will be keen to keep up with the competition.
Could the design change, too? It did in the jump from the WF-1000X (Sony's inaugural true wireless earbuds) to the WF-1000XM3s, but we can't imagine another overhaul already. After all, the WF-1000XM3s are nicely made, if a little on the big side compared to the increasing number of circular, compact AirPods alternatives that are now blessing the market. And from its evolution of over-ears we know the company doesn't like to stray from an aesthetic that works.
So, that's what we're expecting from Sony's next earbuds – similar design, improved features that borrow from the new over-ears, and an enhanced sound. Hopefully we don't have too long to wait to see if we're right...